Whether you’re trying to write a novel or send an email, it can be hard to get yourself to stick to a set work schedule. I certainly struggle to hold myself accountable; I mean, I know the person who set the terms here, and she’s pretty easy to undermine. That’s why I welcome any sort of productivity hack that will finally get me to enter a transcendent workflow state. Enter: The (10+2)*5 method.
Don’t worry — despite its name, the (10+2)*5 rule has nothing to do with PEMDAS. Created by Merlin Mann of 43Folders.com, this rule to “beat procrastination” offers a schedule that will help you get to work and take breaks. I though that sounded good, so I tried it out myself. Here’s how the (10+2)*5 method worked for my productivity, and how you can make it work for you.
How it works
The (10+2)*5 method might look confusing in name, but it’s simple to execute. All the equation means is you should divide each hour of your day into chunks of 10 minutes of work, plus two minutes break, done five times over (12×5=60). The thinking is that by motivating yourself with frequent breaks, you’ll get over the first hurdle: starting work in the first place. After that, the hope is you’ll enter such a work groove you’ll eventually start skipping the two minute breaks.
Testing it out
I tried the (10+2)*5 time table out in the morning, as I wrote my first Lifehacker article of the day. Here’s what my schedule looked like:
9 a.m. – 9:10 a.m. WRITE
9:10 a.m. – 9:12 a.m. BREAK
9:12 a.m. – 9:22 a.m. WRITE
9:22 a.m. – 9:24 a.m. MESS AROUND
9:24 a.m. – 9:34 a.m. WRITE
9:34 a.m. – 9:36 a.m. DAYDREAM
9:36 a.m. – 9:46 a.m. WRITE
9:46 a.m. – 9:48 a.m. TWITTER
9:48 a.m. – 9:58 a.m. WRITE
9:58 a.m. – 10 a.m. REFLECT, DO A VICTORY DANCE, TWITTER
I used a phone timer and manually reset it before each work/break chunk.
Whether out of scientific integrity or pure nerve, I found myself sticking to the schedule to the second. I also discovered that two minutes of break is nothing. (Especially if I used my break to check Twitter; two minutes is not nearly enough time to properly engage in the discourse of the day).
On the other hand, 10 minutes of straight focus proved to be an effective length of time. It’s short enough that I didn’t feel overwhelmed, yet long enough that I was able to actually get some words on the screen. Depending on the task at hand, I could easily see myself skipping one of the two-minute breaks in order to ride the work-flow wave.
Here’s what I recommend to make this rule work best: Resist the temptation to rearrange or roll-over the breaks. If you skip the 9:34 a.m.–9:36 a.m. break, you don’t get to redeem it randomly at 9:41 a.m. Doing so will take away the pressure to actually get work done within those 10-minute (or longer) chunks.
It all comes down to the first step
The biggest hurdle to productivity is procrastinating the very first step. I’m a regular runner, and whether I’m running one mile or 26, I almost always have to make a deal with myself in order to get out the door. Just run five minutes, and then you’re allowed to turn around. Or run one mile, and then walk as much as you want.
The reason this bargaining system works for me is because once I’ve got my body in motion, it’s much easier to keep it in motion. However, in order to get to that point, I have to know that a break is coming (e.g. those two-minute breaks after every 10 minutes of the hard stuff).
Motivate yourself with the prospect of regular breaks, and then once you’ve gotten started, you might find you’re not so desperate for them. If you struggle with taking that first step to get work done, the (10+2)*5 method is worth a shot.